9 Million Bottles of Wine on the Wall

Spain Adventure Day Six
Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Frank Gehry building for Marqués de Riscal

Now for a Good News Girlz wine quiz: when you think Spanish wine, what wine comes to mind? Rioja, of course. When you think of Rioja, what bottle comes to mind? Marqués de Riscal's signature bottle with the white label and gold wire netting, natch. We learned today that Marqués de Riscal, one of the oldest Rioja labels, was founded in 1858 and by 1895 was first non-French wine to win the diploma of honor at the Bordeaux Exhibition.

Tank temperature control room

Electronic barrel washing machine

Karla in bottling room

Marqués de Riscal runs a highly automated operation-producing and selling approximately 9 million bottles of wine a year. Their computer controls for tank temperature would fit seamlessly into a NASA office. They have the Marzola, an automated wine press, a bottling room with machines doing almost all the tedious tasks of getting product ready to ship, and a barrel cleaning machine that left us speechless. It usually takes 12-15 people to rack the wine and clean and sulfur 150 barrels in a day. Marqués de Riscal has a machine that racks, cleans and sulfurs 500 barrels with 5 to 6 workers in a day.

Karla and Elena at tasting

Marqués de Riscal's emphasis on tradition and innovation is nowhere more evident than in their buildings. In the middle of the medieval town of Elciego nestled among old stone buildings and the local church, is a Frank Gehry creation that somehow suits the space. Apparently they sent a bottle of Marqués de Riscal wine from 1929, the year of his birth, with their project proposal. He accepted and created a building that reflects the pink of the wine, the gold of the mesh on the bottles, and silver from the foil capsule on each bottle.

If you find yourself in northern Spain, do try to get to Marqués de Riscal, it's the Disneyland of wineries. Over 70,000 people visited last year, touring with 12 fulltime guides. Elena, our guide took 18 of us through the barrel room, the tanks, and a very nice tasting. She was great.

Hotel Viura

Lunch at Hotel Viura

We love the Hotel Viura in Villabuena de Alava. It's a lovely place, very comfortable, quiet, wonderfully located for touring the Rioja region, and unrivaled customer service. Today after a very nice lunch in the hotel restaurant, we went to the room to check email before heading out for our afternoon winery visits. The phone rang and the front desk asked if we had a red car - yes, we are driving a red car. "Unfortunately," they told us, "it has a bad tire." We were instructed to bring the keys to the front desk and they would change it for us. They not only changed the tire, they retrieved the Europcar contract from the glove box, contacted Europcar in Logrono (30km away) and the manager took our car with the temporary spare to Logrono to swap for a new car. He didn't like the fact that the temporary tire has only an 80 kilometer an hour capacity. Now that's service!


Old car

Old car

New car









Once we got our new car, a white VW that's almost twice the size of our old red Hyundai, we took off for Logroño, a town about thirty minutes away. We were on the hunt for 'the Trail of the Elephants" orLa Senda de los Elefantes. The area isn't marked on maps and when we stepped into a hotel to ask directions, the woman behind the counter didn't know what we meant, but a guy in the lobby did. He was a pilgrim just off the Camino De Santiago where he'd hiked 100 miles in eight days. His wife will continue until she reaches Compostela in about a month from now.


Ordering from pictures seemed like a good idea

We found gluten free tapas!

With the pilgrim's help we found the trail-two streets, Calle del Laurel and Calle San Juan have about 50 bars selling tapas and pinxtos to masses of people. It's more a progressive supper than restaurant rivalry. Each place specializes in one or two small plates and that's what people eat there before moving on. It was great fun. We stopped in at one place and ordered from pictures. Well, what Judy thought was chicken sautéed with lemon was sweetbreads. Karla got what she thought would be four or five pieces of chorizo in tomato sauce and it was twenty chunks of sausage. The wine was pretty good. The whole thing was like a G rated Bourbon Street with whole families out eating, talking and walking. It's a very social culture, and fun to be part of.

Hundreds of people jammed the streets

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